Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The KSA Memoir: Secret things I did to revolutionalize Juju Music + How IK Dairo, Bobby Benson, Fela, James Brown taught me


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KSA, Abioro & African Songs Ltd Management 

It is difficult, if not impossible, to attribute the evolution of my music to just one factor. At best, I would ascribe it to intuition.  I started by aping I.K. Dairo, but craved my own identity. The identity search began with the introduction of the second guitar in the 1960s. 
I introduced the second guitar in 1969, but it was Dele Ojo who introduced the bass guitar.  Even though he claimed to have introduced the second guitar, my records are there.  I later introduced electrified talking drum, pedal steel drum, key boards, drum sticks and several other things.  I tested the acceptability of my innovations at my weekly shows by first announcing to my fans that I would be introducing a new instrument.

I would suddenly stop playing and ask if they heard the instrument.  I also asked them if they thought it was good or bad.  They showed their acceptance by surging to the dance floor.  Sometimes, they clapped and requested me to play only the new instrument.  For example, when I wanted to introduce the pedal steel, I bought one from Bobby Benson.  The only thing I knew about it then was that it was a musical instrument, but vowed to learn how to play it and introduce it.  For two months, it was in my house and I took time to master it.

KSA....Chief Bolarinwa Abioro and his men couldn't stomach our little success away from London and they just dumped us and went away'
After about six months, Ademola Adepoju, whom I had never met, came to me and said he could play it.  He told me he owned one which was built from a guitar.  But mine was a professional pedal steel.  Bobby Benson had it, but nobody knew how to play and I bought it because it was an instrument that had not been used before in Nigeria.  I had only seen it in musicals, especially in Don Williams’ show.


“The arrangement of speakers also changed when I introduced smaller speakers atop long metal poles so that people in a large party would hear the music clearly.  It was always above the level of everyone sitting or standing.  By the time others copied it, I changed it to a column of speakers.  Fela had some before I started using them.  He brought them overseas.  Initially, I thought I was the one who brought them in until I visited the shrine one day and I saw Fela’s column of speakers”.

I asked Adepoju to come over to my place to play.  He was amazed by what he saw and confessed that it was different from the one he had.  We introduced the instrument at a show at the Yaba College of Technology.  By the time we started playing it; people were amazed and started asking what it was.  That was the same way I introduced the keyboard.  From I.K. Dairo’s music, I borrowed bass drum (akuba) and four-cornered samba to add melody to the drum.  I also changed my way of playing the guitar, leaving the guitar to play accordion, talking drum, and then back to the guitar.  In those days, we played the guitar sitting down, putting our legs on a chair to play the accordion and your feet down to play the talking drums.  But I decided to add the keyboard, which can also produce sounds similar to accordion.  Next came the multiple guitars and the rhythm guitar.

My reason for doing this was because if I had one guitar and any of its strings got broken, no guitar sounds would be heard until the string was changed. The idea to introduce multiple guitar came from James Brown’s music in the 70’s when he sang “Hey, hey, I feel alright”.  I was impressed by the way the tenor kept moving the music and I decided to introduce it to take care of broken guitar strings. It was for that reason that I hired Bob Ohiri, who once played with Fela. When he started playing, people thought I took it from Fela rather than James Brown.  But that is pardonable because when Ohiri first arrived, he found it difficult adapting to Juju beat.  We had to devise a way of bringing him back into the rhythm each time he strayed too far into Afrobeat mode.

KSA & his band at Trafalgar Square, London, 1971
My Juju ambition…
My ambition was to make Juju a global music brand, just like reggae.  To this end, I brought in a lot of other musical influences and trends.  I had to electrify the drums in order to blend it with other instruments so that everything would move on at the same time.  Before then, many instruments were played outside the microphone range, forcing musicians to take the instruments close to the microphone for fans to hear the sounds being played.  From Haruna Ishola’s talking drummer, Kasimu Adio, usually had smaller units of talking drums.  Sometimes, he played those ones and added new rhythm to the music.

Our new Scientific Percussion…
We had enough manpower and instead of leaving the main talking drums and those smaller units with one person, I decided that they should be distributed to others so the sounds could come out simultaneously.  Even from less classifiable and non-mainstream traditional music, I picked some ideas.  Prominent among these was agogo (gongs), which was very popular in Ekiti music and especially favored by masquerade followers in Ado-Ekiti.  I used multiple agogo.  This was followed by multiple microphones to improve the level of melody.

KSA with his boss-friend-foe Bolarinwa Abioro in London, 1971
How I missed FESTAC 77
Prior to that, the predominant trend was a single microphone, forcing members to take turns at it.  With each microphone, each singer could be distinctly heard by the audience.  The arrangement of speakers also changed when I introduced smaller speakers atop long metal poles so that people in a large party would hear the music clearly.  It was always above the level of everyone sitting or standing.  By the time others copied it, I changed it to a column of speakers.  Fela had some before I started using them.  He brought them overseas.  Initially, I thought I was the one who brought them in until I visited the shrine one day and I saw Fela’s column of speakers.  Again I changed to multiple arrangement in 1977 with real PA systems.  I got some experts to come to Nigeria to set them up for me for my performance during FESTAC.  Unfortunately, the letter inviting me to perform did not reach me until three days after the event. That was how I could neither play during FESTAC nor use the instruments I specifically brought in for the purpose.

Luckily for me, during FESTAC, I played in one place which had a lot of foreigners.  That was where I recorded “Welcome, welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen!  You are welcome to Nigeria”.  It was very much appreciated and thereafter, I took it to London for mixing.  The record boosted my profile, perhaps more than if I had played during FESTAC.  In 1978, I brought in the wireless microphone and guitar.  When Peter Tosh, U-Roy and others came to Nigeria, they were looking for Simmons drums and wireless microphone which they could not get until Oba Funsho Adeolu (then an actor), asked them to see me.

Up till now, I look out for new things I could introduce into my music to add flavor.  Two years ago, we introduced a new stage arrangement.  My next plan is to have a mobile stage and canopy.  I also introduced the 60KVA generating set to take care of power outage and sabotage that could result if people do not want that party to go on.  These innovations, however, did not change the texture of my music.  After all, I.K. Dairo introduced electric guitar, accordion, Edmundo amplifiers and Rex Low microphones – all foreign instruments, and his music did not become foreign.

Why I sacked my French boss…
My music remained Juju.  As a matter of fact, it was the attempt to westernize my music that made me terminate the contract I had with Island Records, my first foreign label.  The contract, which we signed in 1983, was preceded by a meeting between me and a Frenchman named Martins Messioner.  He said Island Records wanted to sign African bands.  He came and listened to my archives and was impressed. He brought a document and we signed.  He left with some of my music and returned to say we would record immediately here in Nigeria.  He later changed the venue of the recording to Togo.  We recorded Juju Music, taking materials from some of the old albums and adding them to the new ones.  The album had about eight tracks and featured all the instruments I introduced to Juju music because I had told him I wanted it that way.  When he played the album to the journalists in London, they demanded to know more about the artiste.  I was invited to London and I told them that if they wanted to see the band, they had to organize a show or defer my appearance in London until when I would have a summer tour.

I also wanted to know who was going to foot the bill for the concert. They agreed to stump up the cash for the concert.  Now on our own side, we decided to work out a plan to give an impressive show that would impress the British audience and the media because journalists were particularly eager to see us play to know if the hype that already existed was justifiable.  We decided that we must invite Nigerians to the show.  Luckily, we were invited to play for five minutes on a television programme, after which I was interviewed.  One of the questions asked was where I would play in London. I told them that it was at the Leicester Square.  Amazingly, before the interview ended, the presenter informed us that their telephone lines had been jammed becaused everybody wanted to talk to me.  The presenter wanted to know if that was a sign of my popularity.  I said I would not know, but I asked them to inform the public of the venue of the show.


The London King’s Show…
Prior to the announcement, they had sold only 170 tickets.  By the time the interview ended, they had 2000 more buyers.  The capacity of the venue was a little over 2000.  But on the day of the show, over 5000 stood outside, unable to get in.  They had to call the police to control the crowd, which was multinational in composition.  The police started announcing on the megaphone that the crowd outside should go back home because the concert was sold out.  But they still waited, probably thinking that we were scheduled for a double show.  Even if we were to do a double show, the people inside would have to go out first before the crowd outside could get in.  However, those inside refused to go out, saying they were prepared to pay for a second show.  A second show, which was not on our original schedule, had to be slated for the next day.  Even while behind the stage, I got information that the hall was already full, as it was the previous day.  The show had to start 15 minutes before schedule.

KSA, Abioro & African Songs Ltd Management 
We did our best and the media saw the large crowd which went wild over our performance, as they surged beyond the relationship area to touch us.  It was an emotional scene. The next day, papers came out with captions like ‘King of Kings’, accompanies by pictures of a wildly jubilant crowd. The success of the show convinced us that we were in business.  The public also wanted more shows, but we could not oblige because we needed to go back home because of the time limit.  From that moment, every promoter wanted to be part of it and we were then lined up for shows in other countries.

The contract with Island Records was a short-term deal because I did not want more than that at  that point, as I had already established my own labels – Sunny Alade Records, Atom Pack Records and Sigma Disc. I didn’t want to be on anybody’s lable for too long.  It was when they were ready to sign a five-year deal that they wanted me to load my music with foreign musical influences.  However, it was a fruitful union as I got two Grammy nominations while with them. The first was  for Synchro System in 1984. The other was for Odu in 1999.

KSA....A Philosopher-King
Before the success of the show facilitated by Island Records, we had provoked similar reactions in Dakar, Senegal, where we represented Nigeria at an International Expo in 1973.  We were scheduled to stay for four days.  The first night was the command performance and aside from my band, there were many other big bands from across Africa.  But inside the hall, each band had only 30 minutes to play. There were about 10 bands schedules to perform that night, including the group that represented Africa at the German International Expo.  About six bands played before us in a setting that appeared like a circle, with the audience on a gallery.  When it was our turn, I remembered Bobby Benson’s advice that we must play standing and i told my band.  But I thought it may not work because we were not used to the arrangement.  I later convinced myself that even if it failed, the fact would be hidden from our fans in Nigeria.

KSA....A star foretold
But it worked like magic, beginning with our appearance on the stage.  We started with the music of Christopher Oyesghiku and built up the tempo of the music. By the time I came in with my guitar and led the vocals, the crowd was throbbing  with excitement.  Before we realised what was happening, we had spent 40 minutes as the audience jumped on the stage to dance until they had to stop us.  We repeated it the next day at the stadium and on the third, on our own stand.  We decided to adopt the style on our return.  That was how I became the first juju musician to perform on his feet.

But this attracted criticisms, as many acused me of turning into a sort of James Brown.  I kept on doing it and it soon caught on.  I did not consider the criticism unfair because the public was only used to highlife musicians standing up at shows.  Of course, it was because  they could not comfortably play the trumpet or saxophone on their butts.  Juju, Sakara and Apala musicians all played sitting.  The drummers, naturally stood.  In 1971, Uncle Bobby Benson came to my show at K Club and asked why I always sat when playing.  He said he wanted to see me dance.  I told him I always did on my seat.

He explained that nobody would see my feet because it would have been shielded by the amplifier. He asked if I was lame.  I had to explain that I met people playing this way and would not want to go against the norm.  ‘Well, we want to see you dance to your music’, he persisted.  I told him that I would come over to demonstrate it to him at home.  Two years later in Senegal, I put his advice to use and blazed the trail among Juju musicians.

KSA....His crisis in Manchester left an indelible pain in his heart till date
While I am afraid of sounding immodest, I am not scared of pointing to my many contributions to Juju music.  This, however, do not include taking the music outside Nigeria as many seem to believe. The world had been introduced to Juju music even before I became a musician.  It had even been accepted.  This happened throught the efforts of Ayinde Bakare, Ambrose Campbell, Tunde Nightingale and I.K. Dairo.  If Juju lacked acceptability, I.K Dairo would not have been made a member of the British Empire (MBE).

KSA; The New Sensation of the 70s
By the time I started, there were already many exchange programmes to benefit from.  During summers, various associations of Nigerians in London usually invited us to play for them.  America did not catch the bug as quickly, largely because it was farther. People like Baba Olatunji went there, but never returned.  But playing for white audiences did not quite take off untill Fela and I emerged. The first time I took my band to Britain in 1971, with the help of African Songs Limited, we played in London, Liverpool, Manchester and other cities.  The band actually paid its way to Britain and we were almost stranded.  We returned to Britain in 1972, also visited Germany and a few other countries.  Three years later, we played in the US.  Afterwards we started touring Britain and the US regularly. It was in 1982 that I embarked on a world tour.

 (Excerpts from the book; KSA: My Life, My Music by King Sunny Ade. Read ‘How I met and fell in love with Chief Bolarinwa Abioro’ tomorrow on this blog)

Gbenga Dan Asabe

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